Lynn Keller


American poetry since 1950, recent experimental poetries and poetics, poetry and ecocriticism

Degrees and Institutions

  • MA & PhD, University of Chicago
  • BA, Stanford University

Selected Publications

  • Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women’s Exploratory Poetics (Iowa, 2010)
  • Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women (Chicago, 1997)
  • edited with Cristanne Miller, Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory (Michigan, 1994)
  • Re-making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition (Cambridge, 1987)
  • articles in edited collections, including, most recently, “Green Reading” The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, as well as articles in such journals as American LiteratureContemporary LiteratureArizona Quarterly, and Journal of Modern Literature on poetry by Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joan Retallack, Alice Fulton, C.D. Wright, Cole Swensen, Susan Wheeler, Myung Mi Kim and others.

Research Interests

American poetry since 1950, especially women’s poetry and experimental poetries of recent decades; American long poems; visual poetics; poetry and environmental criticism.

Current Projects

I am working on a book on experimental ecopoetics, focusing on work by contemporary North American poets such as Evelyn Reilly, Ed Roberson, and Angela Rawlings.With Alan Golding and Adalaide Morrie, I edit the  University of Iowa Press Series on Contemporary North American Poetry.

Personal Statement

While I was trained as an Americanist and teach a range of American  twentieth-  and twenty-first-century courses on the undergraduate level, my research interests are generically focused: I study poetry almost exclusively. My early scholarship dealt with the relationship between modernist and contemporary or postmodernist poetry, but since the publication of my first book I have focused on poetry written since the 1970s, especially on women’s writing and feminist poetries in the U.S. While linguistically innovative work has been at the center of my recent  research, I am committed to reading broadly in the field of contemporary poetry and to cultivating in my students the varied reading skills necessary to appreciate varied poetics. Interested now in integrating my knowledge of contemporary poetry with my interests in environmentalism, I have shifted  my research to the field of ecocriticism and contemporary experimental ecopoetics.

Graduate Teaching

I regularly teach graduate surveys of poetry movements in the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, as well as more specialized courses devoted to such topics as the long poem; experimental poetries and poetics; or recent poetry and ecocriticism. I have also taught Environmental Studies 900, the Interdisciplinary Methods Course required for graduate students earning a certificate in the Center for Culture, History and Environment.

Recent Books

  • In the first book devoted exclusively to the ecopoetics of the twenty-first century, Lynn Keller examines poetry of what she terms the “self-conscious Anthropocene,” a period in which there is widespread awareness of the scale and severity of human effects on the planet. Recomposing Ecopoetics analyzes work written since the year 2000 by thirteen North American poets–including Evelyn Reilly, Juliana Spahr, Ed Roberson, and Jena Osman–all of whom push the bounds of literary convention as they seek forms and language adequate to complex environmental problems. Drawing as often on linguistic experimentalism as on traditional literary resources, these poets respond to environments transformed by people and take “nature” to be a far more inclusive and culturally imbricated category than conventional nature poetry does. This interdisciplinary study not only brings cutting-edge work in ecocriticism to bear on a diverse archive of contemporary environmental poetry; it also offers the environmental humanities new ways to understand the cultural and affective dimensions of the Anthropocene.

    Read more
  • Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women's Exploratory Poetics cover
    Keller, Lynn. Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women’s Exploratory Poetics. University of Iowa Press, 2010. Print.

    “For all their awards and publications, until now the poetry of Rosmarie Waldrop, Joan Retallack, C. D. Wright, Alice Fulton, Susan Wheeler, Cole Swensen, and Myung Mi Kim has not received always commensurate scholarly attention. Thinking Poetry gathers together for the first time Lynn Keller’s groundbreaking work on these poets and will be a superlative resource for students of innovative contemporary poetry by American women writers. The volume will also be of significant interest to anyone examining women writers who are, as Keller notes, ‘indebted to Language poetry but not necessarily tied to it.’ Each chapter provides meticulous, provocative analyses of the poets’ challenging formal strategies, themes, and source texts. This is an outstanding volume.”—Susan Vanderborg, University of South Carolina

    As the twentieth century drew to a close, experimentalism in American poetry was most commonly identified with Language writing. At the same time, however, a number of poets, many of them women, were developing their own alternative forms of experimentalism, creating “uncommon languages” often indebted to Language writing but distinct from it.

    With impressive intellectual engagement and nuanced presentation, Thinking Poetry provides a meticulous and provocative analysis of the ways in which Alice Fulton, Myung Mi Kim, Joan Retallack, Cole Swensen, Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Wheeler, and C. D. Wright explored varied compositional strategies and created their own innovative works. In doing so, Lynn Keller resourcefully models a range of reading strategies that will assist others in analyzing the complex epistemology and craft of recent “exploratory” writing.

    The seven women whose work is discussed here demonstrate widely differing ways of using poetry to, as Swensen puts it, “stretch the boundaries of the sayable.” Thinking Poetry examines approaches to women’s poetic exploration ranging from radically open, thoroughly disjunctive writing to feminist experimentation within relatively conventional free verse forms; from texts testing the resources of visual elements and page space to those in which multilingualism or digital technology provide arenas for innovation; from revitalized forms of ekphrasis to fresh approaches to pop culture.

    Keller illuminates as well a transitional era in U.S. poetry that presaged current developments that are often seen as combining the poetics of personal lyric and Language writing. Thinking Poetry challenges reductive notions of such a synthesis as it makes clear that the groundwork for current poetic trends was laid by poets who, in a far more polarized climate, pursued their own, often distinctly feminist, visions of necessary innovation.

    Read more
  • Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women cover
    Keller, Lynn. Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women. University of Chicago Press, 1997. Print.

    Expanding the boundaries of both genre and gender, contemporary American women are writing long poems in a variety of styles that repossess history, reconceive female subjectivity, and revitalize poetry itself. In the first book devoted to long poems by women, Lynn Keller explores this rich and evolving body of work, offering revealing discussions of the diverse traditions and feminist concerns addressed by poets ranging from Rita Dove and Sharon Doubiago to Judy Grahn, Marilyn Hacker, and Susan Howe.

    Arguing that women poets no longer feel intimidated by the traditional associations of long poems with the heroic, public realm or with great artistic ambition, Keller shows how the long poem’s openness to sociological, anthropological, and historical material makes it an ideal mode for exploring women’s roles in history and culture. In addition, the varied forms of long poems—from sprawling free verse epics to regular sonnet sequences to highly disjunctive experimental collages—make this hybrid genre easily adaptable to diverse visions of feminism and of contemporary poetics.

    Read more
  • Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory cover
    (Editor), Cristanne Miller, and Lynn Keller (Editor). Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory. University of Michigan Press, 1994. Print.

    Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory breaks new ground in postmodern literary theory, including feminist theory, by moving the focus away from narrative fiction and onto poetry. The book responds to the need for more adequately theorized approaches to poetic literature by bringing together new, previously unpublished essays by fourteen accomplished critics.

    Varied in subject, scope, and theoretical orientation, the essays consider poets from Aemilia Lanyer and Emily Dickinson to Lucille Clifton, Marilyn Hacker, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. The issues addressed range from the gender ideologies of the lyric to the construction of gendered narrative voice in Chicana poetry, and from the honoring of African-American spiritual traditions by acknowledging the reality of ghosts to the relevance to Adrienne Rich’s poetry of Irigaray’s recent writing on ethics. These diverse essays share a common interest in a theoretically self-conscious exploration of gender’s role in poetic production.

    Contributors include Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Susan Stanford Friedman, Margaret Homans, Akasha (Gloria) Hull, and Suzanne Juhasz. Several pieces by poet critics, most notably those by Marlene Nourbese Philip and by Joan Retallack, radically revise the generic expectations of literary criticism. By emphasizing the intersection of theoretical and poetic discourses, the book moves beyond the simple application of theory to text; it opens up the possibilities of the academic essay. The collection will be of vital interest to scholars and students interested in feminist literary criticism and women’s poetry, and to readers of American poetry and twentieth-century poetry.

    Lynn Keller is Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is author of Re-Making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition. Cristanne Miller is Associate Professor of English, Pomona College. She is the author of Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar.

    Read more
  • Re-Making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition cover
    Keller, Lynn. Re-Making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition. Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.

    As a tradition modernism has fostered particularly polarised impulses – though the great modernist poems offer impressive models, modernist principles, epitomised in Ezra Pound’s exhortation to ‘make it new’, encourage poets to reject the methods of their immediate predecessors. Re-making it New explores the impact of this polarised tradition on contemporary American poets by examining the careers of John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Creeley and James Merrill. To demonstrate how these four have extended modernist attitudes to create a distinctive post-modern art, each one’s poetry is compared with that of a modernist who has been an important influence: Ashbery is discussed in conjunction with Wallace Stevens, Bishop with Marianne Moore, Creeley with William Carlos Williams and Merrill with W. H. Auden. Lynn Keller’s book shows that contemporary poets have chosen not to reach for order as their modernist predecessors did; instead, they attempt to dissolve hierarchical distinction and polarising categories in a modest spirit of accommodation and acceptance.

    Read more